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Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

OK, truth be told, this is probably more accurately described as “vegetable soup with some beets thrown in”.  It doesn’t have that full-blown, beet-topia experience that one gets at Veselka.  It’s still pretty tasty, and when it’s 30 degrees and sleeting, it’s a nice thing to warm up to.

serves 4

  • 3 medium golden beets, scrubbed and trimmed, with the greens separated, washed thoroughly and reserved
  • about 4 c of Vegetable Stock
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled
  • 1 large celery stalk, washed and trimmed
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, washed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the beets in half, place in a baking dish and cover; roast in the oven until tender, about 1 hour.  Meanwhile, prepare the Vegetable Stock.

When the beets are done, remove them from the oven to cool (keep them covered, though, so that the skin comes off easily).  In a medium-sized pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic clove.  Roughly chop the carrots, onion and celery and add with several pinches of salt to the garlic.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and brown in spots, about 10 minutes. Slice the mushrooms into 1/2-inch thick slices and add to the vegetables.  Saute until tender, another 10 minutes.

Peel the beets and roughly chop.  Add the cooked beets to the other vegetables; stir to incorporate.  Stir in the Vegetable Stock and reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook until the soup comes together (you’ll know it when you see it), about 20 minutes.  Serve piping hot with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives.

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Yes.  Yes.  Sweet Jesus, yes.

makes your twelve closest friends’ day

  • 1/3 c popcorn
  • 4 strips of high-quality, thick-cut bacon
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary
  • 3 T butter
  • 1/2 c maple syrup

Get some corn poppin’.  Meanwhile, put a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Chop the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and add to the skillet.  Cook slowly to render the bacon fat and crisp the bacon without burning, about 10-15 minutes.  (I prefer my bacon with a little bit of chew left in it, but suit yourself.)  When the bacon is ready, drain off all but a tablespoon or so of the bacon fat (you can use it for another purpose, if you like); keep the bacon pieces in the skillet.  Roughly chop the rosemary leaves and add them along with the butter to the skillet.  (The rosemary really ties the sweet and savory elements of this dish together.  It’s magic, that rosemary.)  

Here comes the fun part:  Add the maple syrup to the bacon mixture and turn the heat up to medium.  Cook until the maple syrup is hot and bubbly and starting to reduce, about 5 minutes.

Toss the maple-bacon mixture with the popcorn; the popcorn will shrivel in agony under the hot syrup.  It’s fun to watch.  Toss the popcorn, adding salt to taste.  Serve as soon as it’s cool enough to eat, and see how many non-bacon-eaters are converted by this caramel corn of the gods.

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There are some things about the West Coast that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to (to which I’ll never get used??).  For example, the other day, one of my students saw what I was eating for lunch and said, “Oooh!  Quinoa tabbouleh!”

Now, when I was 15, I didn’t know of the existence of either quinoa or tabbouleh.  If I had known of their existence, I would have reserved such knowledge strictly for use in games of Scrabble.  I certainly never would have imagined eating either of those two things, let alone wanting to.

Clearly, I’m older now.  It’s doubtful that I’m any wiser, but I at least have the good sense to enjoy quinoa tabbouleh.  Still, there’s part of me that’s a little disconcerted that any red-blooded American teenager would look upon a whole-grain salad as a cause for culinary excitement.  Imagine my consternation, then, when a SECOND 15-year-old student saw my lunch the next day and said, “Ooh!  Quinoa tabbouleh!”  (In fact, I had been eating quinoa with bok choy and tofu, but that’s neither here nor there.)  One quinoa-lovin’ teenager is a freakish aberration; two quinoa-lovin’ teenagers is a Militant Carnivore’s version of the Twilight Zone.

makes enough tabbouleh to feed a bunch of quinoa-lovin’ teenagers

  • 2 cups uncooked quinoa
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 large shallots (there should be about 4 c sliced)
  • 2 bunches of green onions
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 2 bunches of parsley
  • 1 handful of mint
  • 1 1/2 c of mixed black and green olives (I like to include Kalamata olives as well as garlic-stuffed green olives)
  • juice of 6 lemons
  • red pepper flakes, to taste

Rinse the quinoa thoroughly under cold running water:  Quinoa is coated with saponin, most of which is removed in processing, but it’s good to rinse it well before cooking to remove any traces.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with soapy tasting quinoa.  Put the quinoa, bay leaf and a healthy pinch of salt in a medium-sized pot and cover with water by an inch; cover and place over high heat.  When the water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Cook until the quinoa has absorbed most of the water and a spiral appears in each grain of quinoa, about 20 minutes; the quinoa should be tender.  Drain the quinoa thoroughly and discard the bay leaf. Put the quinoa in the largest mixing bowl that you have.

The key to this or any tabbouleh is to season it with reckless abandon:  Add more lemon, pepper and red pepper than you think prudent.  Also, there should be at least as much non-grain stuff (onions, herbs, olives, tomatoes) as grain.  The olives, by the way, are the innovation of my Lovely Vegetarian Wife’s aunt.  A master stroke:  Once you try it, you’ll wonder why you ever ate tabbouleh without them.

Peel the shallots and slice as thinly as possible (I use a mandoline).  Put the shallots in a medium-sized mixing bowl, toss with several pinches of salt and set aside.

Wash and trim the green onions; chop into 1/2-inch pieces.  Add to the quinoa.  Wash the tomatoes and cut in half (or quarters or slices—knock yourself out); add to the quinoa and green onions.

Wash and dry the parsley and mint thoroughly.  Remove and discard the stems.  Chop the herbs rather finely (but don’t kill yourself), then add to the quinoa mixture.

Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, flatten the olives with pits.  Remove and discard the pits, then chop the olives roughly.  Add to the quinoa mixture.  Slice up the garlic-stuffed olives, then roughly chop.  Add to the quinoa mixture.  Add the sliced shallots to the quinoa mixture.

Put the lemon juice into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, until a creamy salad dressing is formed (you’ll need at least a half cup).  Add a judicious amount of salt (remember:  there are pre-salted shallots in this tabbouleh, as well as olives), lots of freshly ground black pepper and the red pepper flakes.

Toss the tabbouleh with the dressing.  You can eat it immediately, or let it ruminate for a while.  I like to make a huge batch on Sunday and eat it for lunch all week, much to the excitement of my students.

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Here at The Militant Carnivore Cooks for his Vegetarian Wife, we believe that health-conscious nutrition and irresponsibly wretched excess go hand in hand.  Thus, our scientists at TMCCFHVW Labs have created the Ultimate Multigrain Waffle:  It’s packed full of whole wheat flour, cornmeal and quinoa for all of the self-righteous fiber one could hope for at breakfast.  It also has a cubic s***load of butter thrown into it.  (That “c” that you see after the number “1” down below is not a typo.)

It’s not my fault:  The Joy of Cooking said it was OK.  I quote verbatim from its recipe for Basic Waffles:  “We give you three choices to prepare this recipe:  use 4 tablespoons butter for a reduced-fat waffle, 8 tablespoons for a classic light and fluffy waffle; or 16 tablespoons for the crunchiest most delicious waffle imaginable.”

That’s not really a choice at all, is it?

makes 15-20 waffles

  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c milk
  • 1 c butter, melted
  • 2 c cooked quinoa

Mix the first five ingredients (aka, the dry ingredients) together in a large mixing bowl.  In another mixing bowl, mix together the eggs, milk and butter.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon just until combined.  Stir in the cooked quinoa.  Preheat the waffle maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.  Make the waffles (my waffle maker uses a 1/3 c of batter at a time, and I like to use the darkest setting) and serve immediately, or keep warm on a rack set over a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven.  Serve with maple syrup, fresh fruit or a savory ragout.  I would advise against putting extra butter on these waffles.

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When you’ve had all the turkey-cranberry sandwiches and reheated mashed potatoes that you can stand, it’s time to make croquettes with the Thanksgiving leftovers.

Croquettes are essentially breaded and deep-fried anythings.  Usually, these anythings include bechamel sauce as a binder.  The key, then, to post-Thanksgiving croquettes is to make a big ol’ batch of rather thick bechamel and to mix it with any and all of the leftover Thanksgiving vegetables and/or turkey.  The recipe for the Rather Thick Bechamel:

  • 1/2 c olive oil and/or butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • nutmeg for grating

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil (and melt the butter, if using) over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour to make a roux.  Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, to cook some of the rawness out of the flour, about 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in about 1/2 c of the milk until smooth, then whisk in the rest of the milk.  Reduce the heat to low and add the bay leaf.  Peel and smash the garlic cloves and toss them in as well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes; the bechamel should feel like thick cream.  Grate in a little nutmeg and some black pepper; add salt to taste.  Remove and discard the bay leaf and allow the bechamel to cool.  It should set up like that paste you remember eating in kindergarten.

This year, by food-processing the bechamel with an equal amount of filling, I made turkey croquettes; sweet potato and almond croquettes; and mushroom, arugula and Fontina croquettes.  (Don’t overprocess the croquette batter:  You want the filling to have some texture, hence the almonds mixed with the sweet potatoes.)  I also made potato croquettes with leftover mashed potatoes, but I didn’t add any bechamel to this:  I just stirred in an egg and a handful of flour to give the potatoes some more structure.

At this point, if you’ve gone through all of these steps, you’ve done plenty of the work for the day.  You could put the croquette batters in the fridge (or freezer) and wait until later before assembling the croquettes.  However, if you’re ready to press on…

Create a frying station like you see in the picture above.  Get out three medium mixing bowls and a large baking sheet; line the baking sheet with parchment paper.  In the first mixing bowl, add several handfuls of flour; stir in some Seasoning Salt.  In the second bowl, crack two eggs and stir them together.  In the third bowl, add a bunch of bread crumbs.  Take a spoonful of croquette batter (vegetarian croquettes first, please).  Drop the batter into the flour; toss it around to coat, and try to work it into roughly a dumpling shape.  Put the croquette in the egg and toss to coat.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the croquette to the bread crumbs; toss to coat completely.  Place the croquette on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining croquettes.

Again, at this point, you could call it a day and freeze the croquettes until tomorrow, or until next Thanksgiving.  If you’ve gone too far now to turn back, pour an inch of oil into a cast-iron skillet and place it over medium heat.  When the oil is shimmery, CAREFULLY place five or six croquettes in the oil, starting at the back of the skillet.  When they’re golden brown on the bottom, after 2-3 minutes, carefully flip the croquettes and cook on the second side, about 1-2 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet; you can keep the croquettes warm in a 200 degree oven while you cook the rest.  Serve hot on a bed of greens with leftover cranberry sauce (preferably homemade cranberry-orange relish).

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Pan-Seared Turkey Liver

This one’s just for the Militant Carnivores.

It’s two days until Thanksgiving.  You’ve put the turkey in a stockpot full of maple brine.  You’ve taken the giblets and added them to the contents of your chicken stock bag and are roasting them in a Dutch oven, along with garlic, onions, carrots and celery, until they’re nice and browned so that you can make a big batch of turkey stock.

And you’re left with the turkey liver.  You know it can’t go into the stock pot, as it will make the stock bitter.  And there’s certainly not enough of it to make into a separate dish to put on the Thanksgiving table.  What to do?

Stop feeling guilty, that’s what.  This one’s for you—just for you.  Toss it in a hot cast-iron skillet, sear it for about 45 seconds per side, drizzle it with a little vinegar, add a grind of pepper and a pinch of flaky salt, and eat it with some toast or crackers.  Pour yourself a glass of chilled red wine.  You’ve been working hard.  You’ve earned a little chef’s treat.  Enjoy.

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A year ago, my Lovely Vegetarian Wife and I joined the late 20th century by acquiring a microwave.  We had just moved across the country and were setting up our apartment, and our friends said that they had an old one which they didn’t use anymore.  We accepted it, somewhat reluctantly:  We had gone for most of our adult lives without having a microwave in the kitchen, and we had come to regard it as an unnecessary crutch for frantic yuppies who couldn’t be bothered to take the time to cook properly.

We have come to see that the microwave is very useful and has its place in the kitchen.  Obviously, it’s great for heating up leftovers and cups of coffee.  It is really the best way to make good nachos (a toaster oven gets the chips brown before the cheese melts).  It defrosts things effectively.  It allows you to melt butter in a glass bowl instead of using up another pot and room on the stove.  It cooks sweet potatoes perfectly.  However, there is one important concession that we will not make to the microwave:  We will not make popcorn in the microwave.  We make popcorn on the stove.

Aside from the fact that microwave popcorn contains God knows what, popcorn on the stove is easy and fun.  I won’t say popping corn on the stove is as easy as boiling water, but if you can saute an onion, you can make popcorn.  Simply put a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add a thin layer of oil and a test kernel; cover the pot.  When you hear the “Ping!” of the popcorn popping, the oil is hot enough.  Add the rest of the kernels.  Cover the pot and shake it over the burner.  The popcorn should take off almost right away.  When the popping starts to subside (or when the popcorn starts to push the lid off the pot, which is really seriously cool), dump the popcorn into the largest bowl you have.  (And watch out for stray exploding kernels.  I must say, this is half the fun of stovetop popcorn for me:  I love food that fights back.)

At this point, you can toss the popcorn with WHATEVER YOU WANT.  Seriously.  Have a hankering for kettle corn?  Toss some sugar on with the butter and salt.  Going vegan?  Use olive oil (extra virgin, of course) and a few grinds of black pepper.  Like cheese?  Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  Pimenton, curry powder, quatre epices, Chinese five-spice powder… if you like the flavor, it will probably taste good on popcorn.

I like buttery—really buttery—popcorn; I have fond memories of large buckets of movie theater popcorn, slathered with whatever the hell that orange stuff actually is.  These days, though, I can’t quite justify the calories.  So, I compromise (and unlike most compromises, this one leaves everybody happy):  I swap out half of the butter for olive oil.  I don’t see the point of omitting garlic from anything, and a little fresh rosemary just takes this to a whole new level.

I guess it’s time for some actual quantities here:

  • 1/3 c popping corn
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 T olive oil, plus more for cooking the popcorn

makes enough popcorn for grazing at a small party, or for snacking on while watching Netflix Instant at 2 am

While preparing the popcorn per the directions above, place the butter in a microwave-proof bowl.  (Or, if you want to swear off the microwave entirely, put the butter in a small pot over medium-low heat.)  Smash and peel the garlic clove; add it to the butter.  Strip the leaves (needles?) off the rosemary sprig and roughly chop them, if you want; add the rosemary to the butter as well.  Microwave the butter on high for 1 minute until it’s melted; stir in the olive oil.

When the popcorn is finished, drizzle the butter-olive oil mixture over top.  I toss the garlic clove in as well—it’s delicious.  Sprinkle generously with salt (and a few grinds of black pepper, if you’re so inclined); toss thoroughly to combine.  Bring the whole bowl (and, ideally, a steaming mug of hot chocolate) over to the couch and put on a good, mindless movie.  Enjoy.

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